C. S. Lewis, speaking of humility in Mere Christianity, says that when you meet a truly humble man, you probably wouldn’t think him humble—you would simply enjoy being in his presence. He would be so comfortable being himself that he would not focus on himself at all—he would be focused on others and on God. I have spent much of my life focused on what other people thought of me. In a social situation, I have often focused on what others were thinking about me, wondering particularly whether they liked me. When you are self-conscious, preoccupied with what others are thinking about you, you have no time or energy to focus on them. When you know that you are loved by God at the core of your being, you don’t have to search for love and affirmation from people around you—and this frees you to focus on others, not yourself.
Indeed, not focusing on yourself is difficult. A couple of years ago, I took part in a Lenten service held forty days before Easter. I had never given up anything for Lent before, but I decided to give it a try. After trying to think about something I wanted to stop doing, I decided not to talk about myself unless in answer to someone else’s question. I tried hard to keep this vow for the forty days leading up to Easter—and I found out just how difficult not focusing on oneself can be.
Other-focused people are great listeners. When we listen, we can be selective, attentive, or empathic. When we listen selectively, we focus only partially on others, hearing only part of what they say—often only the parts we want to hear. When we listen attentively, we pay attention to the other person and probably will remember what he or she said to us. But a deeper level still is empathic listening—listening with the intent to truly understand the other person and try to feel what he or she is feeling. With this kind of listening, you listen with your eyes, mind, and heart—not just your ears. You are trying to read the other person’s body language and nonverbal signals, empathizing with his or her feelings. Other-focused people do more listening than talking. Perhaps, as the saying goes, the reason why God created us with two ears and one mouth was to remind us to listen twice as much as we speak.
RELECTIONS: Do you pay attention to others around you? What reminders can you put in your life to help you quit focusing on yourself and to make you a better listener? Adopt a general rule of listening twice as much as you speak. Come up with a few open-ended questions to ask people as a way of encouraging them to share about their lives. Compose a prayer that you can pray daily to help you remove your focus from yourself. Consider making a vow to not initiate talk about yourself for a season.
let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger